Substitute Jabo Ibehre's first league goal of the season brought MK Dons from behind to take a deserved point at Exeter City.
The powerful striker, only introduced two minutes previously, started and finished a fine move 17 minutes from the end of an entertaining game at St James' Park, glancing home a cross from fellow sub Luke Chadwick to earn the Dons their first draw on the road this term. Seeking to improve on League 1's worst away record, Karl Robinson's side showed plenty of spirit to supplement their expansive attacking play, making light of an awful pitch to bounce back from Jamie Cureton's wonderful chipped opener.
Whether it proves a turning point for a side whose troubles on the road have defied their blistering home form, remains to be seen. But it was a definite show of defiance from Robinson's men, against a Grecians side that have been beaten just twice on their own patch this term. In his search to solve the team's travel sickness, Robinson recalled young Daniel Powell on the right of the attack, leaving Sam Baldock to lead the line in Ibehre's stead.
With Sean O'Hanlon missing, Gary MacKenzie stepped into the breach in the back four. Paul Tisdale's selection was of considerable significance - star player Ryan Harley left on the bench amid speculation linking him with a move to league leaders Brighton. It truth, a player of Harley's cultured passing ability might have shuddered at the thought of playing on a pudding of a pitch where even the most predictable of bounces threatened to deceive unwitting defenders. And Exeter inevitably adapted the quicker, keeping things simple and consciously avoiding the temptation to over-play.
They threatened as early as the fifth minute - the wily Cureton first setting Liam Sercombe loose through a retreating Dons defence, before receiving the return pass inside the box and drawing a fine save from the outrushing David Martin.
Richard Logan's header from a Steve Tully cross forced the Dons keeper into action again moments later, but there was nothing Martin could do as Cureton expertly gave the hosts an eighth minute lead. Controlling Tully's throw-in in the right side of the box, the former Norwich marksman got barely a yard away from Mathias Kouo-Doumbé, before leaving Martin standing with a stunning chip that dropped inside the far post for his 11th goal of the season. Conceding as early as they had at Yeovil on Monday, the Dons' response would be vital and, to their credit, they came out fighting, particularly the lively Powell.
The youngster must have thought he'd levelled on 16 minutes when he directed a low Michael McIndoe cross towards the far corner, but Billy Jones' block denied him a second goal of the season.
He had another sight of goal a couple of minutes later - drawing a good save from Paul Jones after retrieving a Peter Leven corner inside the box, in an attack which also saw Baldock fail to convert a dangerous cross from the advanced Kouo-Doumbé.
It started a spell of decent Dons possession, Leven orchestrating play well from the middle of the park, and Lewis Guy rued not hitting the target, given space to shoot from striking distance. Exeter's threat on the break remained, Cureton crossing for Logan to volley wide on 42 minutes, but it was the visitors finishing the half stronger and they came within a whisker of heading into the interval level.
Guy picked up more good space between midfield and defence, running at the Exeter backline before slipping in Baldock, whose stab under Paul Jones was hacked off the line by the sliding Richard Duffy. It gave Robinson's side plenty of momentum to take into the second period and after his brilliant block from Powell in the first half, Billy Jones was at it again to deny MacKenzie early in the second after great work from McIndoe and Dean Lewington down the left.
The pressure from the Dons continued with Powell again threatening, intelligently using Danny Woodards as a decoy down the right before chopping inside and shaving the far post with a rising drive. Even as the home side, Exeter seemed happy for the Dons to come onto them - a shot from Scott Golbourne straight at Martin the best they had managed halfway through the second period.
Baldock forced another brilliant close-range save from Paul Jones after Kouo-Doumbé had headed down another Leven corner on 68 minutes, before Exeter blew their chance to settle it through substitute John O'Flynn, who dragged criminally wide after Golbourne had put him clear. Robinson sought to strike while the iron was hot, sending on Ibehre for Powell.
The big man's first touch was a trademark lay-off out to Luke Chadwick on the left, his second a soaring header from the subsequent cross that flew across Paul Jones and inside his far post.
It brought a familiar chant from the travelling Dons faithful, and plenty of appreciation from his team-mates. So often the selfless foil for others, Ibehre will hope his third goal in all competitions this term can kick start a strong second half of the campaign. From there both sides had chances to win it as the search for two more precious points got frantic. Stephen Gleeson, superb in the second half, showed great feet to set Woodards away down the right, whose low cross was turned behind by Matt Taylor with Baldock lurking.
And Chadwick had an even better sight of goal moments later as he controlled a cross from impressive substitute Adam Chicksen
before shooting straight at Paul Jones. But the headlines were almost stolen by Harley, thrown on to cheers from the home crowd in the 70th minute, as his long-range drive was beaten away by Martin to his right.
Exeter City (3-5-2): P. Jones; Duffy (Cozic 46), Taylor (c), B. Jones; Tully, Dunne, Noble (Harley 70), Sercombe, Golbourne; Cureton, Logan (O'Flynn 58).
Subs not used: Krysiak, Nardiello, Edwards, Thomson.
Goals: Cureton 8
Booked: Duffy, Cozic, Dunne, Sercombe
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): Martin; Woodards, MacKenzie, Kouo-Doumbé, Lewington (c); Gleeson, Leven; Powell (Ibehre 71), Guy (Chicksen 74), McIndoe (Chadwick 61); Baldock.
Subs not used: Searle, Carrington, Hamann.
Goals: Ibehre 73 Booked: Kouo-Doumbé, MacKenzie
Attendance: 4,544 (111 away)
Referee: Rob Lewis (Shropshire)